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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 23 2013

Starch: Fallback Food or Essential Nutrient?

By Mark Sisson
153 Comments

Roots

I’ve always said that carbs aren’t bad in and of themselves. They’re better in certain contexts and worse in others.

Are you CrossFitting five days a week? Training for the Olympics? Breastfeeding? These are contexts in which carbs are warranted, helpful, and even healthy.

Are you insulin-resistant and hyperinsulinemic? Are you a moderately active person with a few extra pounds? Are you diabetic, or nearly so? These are contexts in which a low carb intake would be warranted, helpful, and even healthy.

With my Carb Curve, I’ve tried to establish a basic framework that works for most people who come to this site looking to get healthy. I think I’ve mostly succeeded. 150 grams of carbohydrates from fruit, squashes, roots, and tubers is more than enough for the vast majority of people to feel sated, healthy, and energetic without leading to weight gain or exacerbating metabolic syndrome. Add more if you need it to fuel your training; remove some if you’re particularly sedentary, diabetic, or looking to lose weight; try a carb refeed every few days of 200-300 grams if you’re very low carb or ketogenic. Round that out with all the non-starchy vegetables you want and you’re looking at a very diverse diet rich with phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals with lots of room for nutrient-dense meat and fat sources. Not bad, right? Pretty simple, and the results speak for themselves.

Despite that, there’s an undercurrent that high-carb Primal and low-carb Primal are interchangeable. That macronutrient ratios don’t matter regardless of health status or metabolic context, and that we evolved eating a diet rich in, if not based on, starchy tubers.

Today, I’m going to address some of the most common arguments for these claims. I’m not arguing against including starch in your diet, now. I’m arguing against this notion that inclusion of large amounts of starch is the defining characteristic of an ancestral diet.

Let’s jump right in…

But Grok Ate Tubers, and Lots of ’em!

This is a common refrain. And sure, wild tubers, AKA underground storage organs, have been around longer than we have. They’re an important food source for many animals, including primates, so it’s no wonder early humans utilized wild tubers. But before you rush out and buy potato futures, consider a few points:

Wild tubers are not Russet potatoes. They generally don’t turn into creamy smooth starchy goodness when baked. They’re tough, fibrous things that provide a fraction of the usable energy modern cultivars provide (PDF). Whereas your typical kilogram of potato offers over 1000 calories, a kilo of many wild tuber varieties hover at around 300 calories. Eating these would have provided a moderate dose of glucose – akin to, perhaps, butternut squash – plus a load of prebiotic fiber for the gut flora. In addition to fiber, wild tubers are extremely rich in minerals, with some varieties offering over 500 mg of calcium per 100 grams of tuber – so they’re also more mineral-dense than the tubers most of us can buy at the store.

They were very likely fallback foods. Among the Hadza people of Tanzania, tubers are the least-preferred food source. If you could see the aftermath of a tuber feast, you’d understand why: piles and piles of chewed up fiber, spit out after sucking all the caloric glucose-rich starch from the tubers. It gets the job done, but it’s not very pleasant or appetizing. Now, before you point to the fact that tubers were also the most-available food source, consider that the environment of the Hadza is not the environment of early man. The geography may be the same, but everything else has changed. Like most all other extant hunter-gatherers, they are the remaining members of people who have been driven off the best, most resource-rich lands into the margins, those scrubby relatively resource-poor lands. They’ve literally been marginalized. They eat lots of tubers because they are widely available and they eat less meat and honey because they aren’t always available (even though they prefer the latter two). Before agriculture and the rise of the state, land was sparsely populated by humans and rich in game. Animals were simply more numerous and thus easier to come by. I’m not saying that our ancestors were carnivores – quite the contrary, in fact – but all else being equal hunter-gatherers on game-rich lands will have more opportunities to consume (the preferred) animals and less cause to fallback on fibrous tubers than hunter-gatherers on marginalized lands.

Specific genetic adaptations to tuber-based diets emerged only recently. Adaptations include detoxification of glycosides (potentially toxic substances found in tubers), enhancement of folate biosynthesis (tubers contain little folate, so people subsisting on tubers would need to develop ways to make enough of their own in-house), and improvements in starch metabolism. If we’d been eating a tuber-rich diet for our entire history as humans, why would these recent genetic adaptations even be necessary?

But We Make Salivary Amylase!

Salivary amylase is like pancreatic amylase in that it digests starch into simple, absorbable sugars, only in your mouth. It helps prepare starch for further digestion, particularly the more you chew. Plus, your amylase-rich saliva gets swallowed and continues working on the starch throughout digestion. Compared to the fruit-eating and starch-eschewing chimpanzee with two copies, humans have between two and fifteen copies of the salivary amylase gene. Some have posited that this indicates a necessary role for starch in human nutrition. It sounds like a reasonable argument.

As I’ve mentioned before, though, having a high number of salivary amylase gene copies isn’t universal. It depends on your background. If your ancestors ate a lot of starch, you’re more likely to have more copies than the people whose ancestors did not eat as much. Beyond the first copies around 200 thousand years ago, researchers are still piecing together exactly when the extra copies of salivary amylase genes were added to (some segments of) the human genome, but judging from the emergence of other recent, tuber-specific adaptations (mentioned above), it wasn’t too long ago for many of us.

And if you are one of the high-amylase individuals, remember why salivary amylase is ultimately there: to assist in the digestion (and thus assimilation) of dietary starch. It’s not there to justify overconsumption of starchy tubers whose carbs you don’t really need. High copies of salivary amylase genes are only helpful if you need the glucose to survive. If you need the calories, if you’ll use the calories, then the salivary amylase will help you do it. But if you’re a mostly sedentary modern computer-using human who works out moderately and drives to work, I wonder whether you truly need so much starch.

Which brings me to the next argument.

But People Didn’t Start Getting Fat en Masse Until the Advent of Industrial Foods; Most Starch-Eating Agriculturalists Were Actually Pretty Thin!

This is true. You can look at old pictures from the turn of the last century and you’ll notice that most everyone is slim. If you could travel back through time and space to visit and view Mayan empire, the Indus valley civilizations, the Roman republic, the signing of the Magna Carta, the first farmers in the fertile crescent – you would bring back photos of mostly lean people as well. Lean, often perpetually exhausted and overworked people.

Agriculture introduced the concept of “labor.” People living in agricultural societies had to work hard to survive. Rather than draw on the seemingly endless bounty of nature, agriculturalists imposed themselves on the land and struggled against the very laws of nature to force crops to grow. They worked long hours and performed tons of “reps.” It’s been estimated that medieval peasants, for example, had to consume up to twice as many calories as modern humans just to keep up with the demands of their daily labor. They certainly weren’t fat on their high-calorie, high-carb diets because they were “earning” their carbs with loads of glucose-demanding physical work. If you’re not doing the work of a medieval serf, you won’t have the same tolerance of and need for starch.

I’m not suggesting hunter-gatherers didn’t work or physically exert themselves, by the way. Hunter-gatherers worked, for sure, just not the kind of daily, miserable, physically-exhausting toil you’d do as a farmer. Maybe three to five hours a day. It wasn’t day in, day out, either; a successful hunt was followed by days of relaxing, partying, and feasting. It was more fractal, varied, random, seasonal.

Thin doesn’t always equal healthy, anyway. Remember: I stayed thin and “fit” on 750-1000 grams of carbs every day when I was running 100 miles a week. Doesn’t mean it was a good idea or I wasn’t hurting myself.

But the Kitavans Ate a Starch-Based Diet and Were Healthy!

I’ve touched on the Kitavans before, and I largely agree. They were healthy. Here’s the thing, though: most people aren’t raised in a pristine South Pacific island environment replete with sunshine (vitamin D), crystal clear waters, coconuts, biologically congruent sleep patterns, extended families and strong communities, and extended breastfeeding with a near absence of gluten-containing grains and processed seed oils (that last one could be said for the medieval serfs and other pre-industrial starch eaters, too!). They’re very active and although they consume relatively low amounts of fat, what fat they do consume is derived from coconuts (saturated fats) and fish (omega-3s). Not to mention the epigenetic advantages of having parents and grandparents who lived this way. There’s far more to the Kitavan way of life than all the tubers they eat.

If you hope to have the same results eating a potato-based diet, you better get all the lifestyle and other dietary factors right (plus figure out how to travel back in time to influence the way your parents and grandparents lived and ate!).

As an insular island people, the Kitavans may also have genetic component to their tolerance of a high-carb diet, similar to the proposed adaptations related to gluconeogenesis that allow Arctic natives to flourish on a very low carb diet nearly bereft of significant plant input. If you don’t have those same island genetics, you may not have the same response to the Kitavan diet. Give it a shot, though; you could do a whole lot worse!

Anyway – those are the arguments I’m seeing. They’re interesting but ultimately limited and short-sighted in my opinion. My goal is not to attack or dismiss them (or dietary starch), but rather to offer some nuances to consider before integrating them into the Primal framework.

What do you think, folks? What other arguments are out there? What have you experienced with starch?

Let me know below, and thanks for reading!

TAGS:  Grok

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153 thoughts on “Starch: Fallback Food or Essential Nutrient?”

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    1. Though to me is seems more like a gong. I wish my family would at least hear the bell. haha

      1. Half of my family have heard the bell…errrr gong! Other half coming along at a good pace…I’m happy. I agree Groktimus..very well said Mark, thank you.

        1. …and are you the one holding the pillow AGAINST their faces?! {wink}

    2. Beyond the obvious of “just eating real food” the only thing I ever pay attention to is the carb content – I know I’m getting good proteins, a wide variety of macronutrients, healthy fats, etc, but I just don’t count them! Carbs, on the other hand I do pay attention to. On training days I’ll have a little more than none training days and generally I tend to have carbs earlier in the day rather than later. I work in a range of 100 to 150 grams per day, sometimes less and rarely more. They are clearly essential but no where near as essential as traditional wisdom would suggest. One thing I never do is fuel a workout with carbs just before it.

      All in all this works very well for me……a sensible carb content for my lifestyle

      1. Actually carbs are not essential. You die without fat or protein.

        1. Your brain needs around 20g of carb a day, if you go below this your body will start to turn protein into glucose via gluconeogenesis in order to meet its requirement. This requirement cannot be met with ketones.

          Carbs ARE essential for human survival.
          Dietary carbs are not essential for human survival.

  1. I don’t even know how to work-out what 150 grams of carbohydrates looks like. I generally just try to avoid them, thinking that I’ll get enough via the healthy vegetables I eat, but it could be 50, 150 or 500 grams for all I know.
    Any tips?

    1. I have been wondering the same thing…..I have no idea how many carbs I consume from my non starchy green veggies. Some tools to estimate carb grams would be greatly appreciated.

      1. Go on Fitday.com and enter the vegetable. Have it compute a 1 ounce serving; It’ll give you fat, carbs, protein and other nutrients. Weigh what you eat for a while so you can see how many carbs you get in your usual servings. After that you can eyeball it for rough estimates.

    2. just plug into an online food tracker for a week or so–paleotrack or fitday or such. it’s probably a good idea to know what your normal baseline diet is currently and see if you feel better adjusting macros

      1. yeah I do the same thing just make a livestronge account and use thier food tracker. It will give you daily and weekly totals.

    3. Vegetable carbs can be either fiber or starch (with some sugar). Fiber carbs have no nutritional calories, so if you are eating lots of broccoli & other leafy greens, these do not contribute to starch/sugar calories. Use internet databases to calculate how much starch carbs is in a root vegetable by subtracting the fiber grams from total carb grams. An example would be (using a sweet potato) from 200 gramsin weight, 40 grams of that are carbs. it has 6 grams fiber, 8 grams sugar (sucrose,glucose,fructose) and the remaining 26 grams of carbs is starch. by contrast, 200 grams of broccoli would only provide 4 grams sugar (glucose,fructose,lactose,maltose,sucrose) & 4 grams of starch. If you are not eating tuber veggies, you will probably not get very much total starch. hopefully this helps.

      1. Here is the rub…all carbohydrates are 2 things…fiber and non fiber. Fiber is good because it does not Turn to sugar. All non-fiber turns to sugar.

        A sweet potato with 40 g total carbohydrate and 8 g of fiber means that you are left with 32 g of …sugar. You can call it starch but the 32 g of non-fiber all turn to sugar.

        There are 5 g of sugar in a teaspoon so you are looking at a little over 6 teaspoons of sugar with 8 g of fiber.

        That is why we diabetics,in particular, have to avoid starchy vegetables. There is just way too much sugar and not enough fiber.

        1. There would not be enough fiber if you ate the sweet potato in isolation, perhaps. If you are eating other non-starchy veggies (salad greens, broccoli etc.) at the same meal with the sweet potato, the overall glycemic load of the meal will improve. Also consider eating only 1/2 a potato any one time. There are wonderful micronutrients in sweet potato; would hate to think diabetics are foregoing them altogether.

        2. Your additional info is correct to a certain extent. Preparation of the starch is key. If you cook the starch, then let it cool down (i use the fridge to guarantee cool down), then either eat it cold or warm it up by stir-frying (and possibly other methods), the original starch become resistant starch which is not broken down into sugar, and acts more like a fiber which feeds your gut microbes. The original sugar will still be there, so if you have issues with sugar intake I would choose russets over sweet potatoes. This method has worked for many people I know.

    4. Myfitnesspal works pretty good. It’s free too. I have clients use it for a few weeks to get an idea of what there taking in number wise. Seems to work well for this.

      You can even create meals that your eat frequently and plug right in. Kinda handy to do for a couple of weeks if your want to track specific numbers like carb intake.

    5. I use My FItness Pal, an app on my iphone that tracks everything. now that i’ve learned how to manage my ratios i don’t need to depend on the app anymore. you can scan labels on everything too – it takes seconds to look at your meal.

    6. Get calorie king app or on your PC. You can consume 200 grams before you know it even on a good diet.

    7. Basically, a serving of fruit (like 1 apple) or starchy vegetable like a sweet potato has about 25g of carbs. So I target about 4 such servings a day and figure I’m getting about 100g of carbs.

      1. So simple! Thanks. That helps a lot to give me a picture of what everyone’s talking about.

      1. Just a thought: Dr. Greg Ellis, PhD notes the whole net carb approach has limited value much like the Glycemic Index. I don’t have the reference, but, I’d highly recommend finding the article as he discusses some of the mistakes that went into both approaches.

    8. A few years ago, when I switched to low carb/high saturated fat eating, I downloaded the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23, which lists the carb content in grams for measured meal portion sized quantities of just about every carb containing food known. It is a pretty good guideline for sorting out the actual quantitative carb content of our daily diet. Like all government work, it is probably faulty in some respects, but it is still a nice template for carbohydrate analysis of our meals.

      I was going to post the link to the pdf download, but the USDA site, like all .gov sites, has a very user unfriendly search engine and and I couldn’t find “USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23” This is probably the most likely starting point: https://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=8964

      Perhaps someone better versed in boolean searches can track it down and post it. It is a very helpful resource.

  2. I can give up the starches, but I love me some nuts. Too much=weight gain.

  3. I’ve recently added quite a bit of starch into my diet through rice and potatoes after a rigorous training session. Sometimes upwards to 400 grams. It’s been about 3 months of this now and I’ve experienced no fat gain or other issues. In fact, it’s really helped with recovery for my next session and I’ve been killing it in the gym. I do agree with Mark that it’s probably not recommended for the sedentary population, but will benefit those who do any type of glycogen depleting workouts.

      1. I calculated how many carbs I’d need to put on a little more muscle and 400 g is pretty close to right on. That’s 1600 calories on top of my protein and fat calories, just enough to put me in a surplus on my training days. I used the leangains approach.

        3 cups of uncooked white rice is 270 g of pure starch, so it’s pretty easy to consume this number.

        1. Sorry, ignore my question. I see the answer to my question now. Thanks

    1. I think you have stumbled, maybe unbeknownst, into the fabled carb back load protocol (think John Kiefer). I’ve experienced great results combining ultra low carb primal with this protocol (slamming carbs post workout). It has worked insanely well, but only with high intensity, high volume weight training. In the end, completely agree you have to match the food with the lifestyle, but now we have the added benefit of understanding timing of nutrients and how to maximize what we eat (maybe it was a little more instinctual with our ancestors).

      1. Fabled? Not to me–it’s actually helping my genetically-predisposed diabetic husband bring his blood sugar readings down, as it’s meant to–the whole Carb Nite program (carb-backloading lite) was designed for SEDENTARY diabetics, not people who can work out regularly. Hubby’s got too many injuries that prevent him from working out as rigorously as the rest of you.

        Example: he no longer has cartilage in his left ankle, so just standing is extremely excruciating all the time. The only relief he gets from the pain (without pain-killers) is sleep. Previous attempts at trying to induce new cartilage to grow have failed, and replacing the whole ankle with a prosthetic won’t happen because the “ankle isn’t bad enough.” So how bad does it have to be before he’s eligible?

        Example 2: his left shoulder suffers from a rotator cuff injury combined with a detached collarbone on that side–this means he cannot lift anything over his head without the collarbone floating around freely, because there was nothing left inside for surgeons to attach it to. It doesn’t hurt, but it sure looks gruesome!

        There are more examples of his many injuries, but I won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say that when you’ve been around as long as we have, and done as much as we have, things happen that prevent you from continuing to do them—like running (now just a dream). You try new tricks, and stick with the ones that work…like carb backloading once weekly, along with widely-spaced meals.

        Right now, it’s the only thing that’s keeping him off insulin.

  4. Mark,

    I’m curious about your opinion on elevated blood glucose on a low-carb diet. After some unusual blood work (fasting glucose >100 on a diet generally below 100g carbs / day), I came across this post – http://paleohacks.com/questions/120538/the-high-blood-glucose-dilemma-on-low-carb-lc-diet.html.

    What’s your opinion on the impact of Physiological Insulin Resistance on long term health? Would you moderate your recommendation on starch intake for someone exhibiting low carb insulin resistance?

    Has anyone else experienced this? I think I may have overshot the lower bound of the curve for my activity level… 🙂

  5. It seems like we as a nation (and the world in general) have fallen too far back on starches as a cheap and comforting food source–just look at the rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancers, and other metabolic problems that resulted!

    I’m glad so many here have learned to “get up” off their starches–now, I just wonder how many will get the word (and do the lifestyle) before it’s too late. As the Boomer wave will pass through life and die off, another wave of unhealthy people will too have to pass through and die off before we can really clear the slate and restore wide-spread sanity to diet and health once again.

    Unfortunately, I won’t be around to see it, even though I’m one of those who got off my starches–I just didn’t get the word early enough in my lifetime.

  6. It’s pretty straight forward. Carbs and starches are energy.. the less energy you use, the less you would need starches, while the more energy you use, the more starches you would need or want. I am overweight, so by avoiding many sources of those energy only starches, then my body will look to my energy storage (fat) to accomplish what my energy demands are.

    Seems simple enough right?

    1. And I am a biology teacher, and it is amazing how well my students have been taught conventional wisdom. I try to do what I can, but health class is drilling whole grains into their head!

      1. In fairness, you have an uphill battle.

        “Whole grains” (and I use that loosely) supposedly include bread (pizza!) and every other comfort/fun food on the planet. Just to begin with, they aren’t going to want to believe you. They also are in the prime of their biological life. Many of them feel pretty awesome regardless of what they eat.

        Hopefully they will file it away and bring the concepts out when life starts to creep up on them.

        1. All you can do is plant the seed… it may lie dormant until they have a crisis and need to change, but it’s ok. That’s part of their journey 🙂

  7. Specifically, potatoes do not find their way onto my dinner plate very often. I must admit though, oven roasted garlic / rosemary spuds are pretty tasty. But there is just so much other great tasting nourishing food available to be devoured. I suppose that’s why I eat the way I do.

  8. I am one of those naturally lean guys that enjoys being very active, though I do have a sitting desk job with a computer monitor during office hours. My wife, on the other hand, prior to starting the primal/paleo lifestyle about four years ago (along with me), always had a history of being overweight, easy weight gain, pre-diabetic syndrome, and generally struggled with food in unhealthy ways, etc.

    We started paleo for the first year or two with a fairly low carb diet (no starch, rarely even stuff like squash or other primal-approved starchy foods). And we felt pretty good at first.

    Over time though, we both had small and minor complaints (digestive issues, dry eyes and skin, etc) and both dealt with an increasing craving for sugars and cheats, despite the fact that we ate fruits or other natural sugars as recommended here.

    For the last couple of years, we have added white rice and sweet potatoes back into our diets (the rice being a daily staple, really) and neither of us have suffered any bad effects. I feel stronger for workouts and more satisfied overall, and despite her history of broken metabolism and food struggles, my wife has maintained the same weight and body composition she had when we first went low carb. We seem to have far less cravings for sugars or cheats, and the other minor complaints we had are fixed.

    I realize everyone is different, but we seem to have found our sweet spot with the inclusion of “safe starches” in our diet. I would probably include potatoes too, but have found that I have a fairly high sensitivity to nightshades — they cause achy joints, skin rashes, etc for me, so I simply avoid them.

    1. That’s great that you guys were able to get so dialed in together. I’m sure it took a bit of experimenting to get there.

      1. Continual experimenting, and it’s always ongoing. It took me a long time to realize that nightshades are problematic for me. I also realized fairly recently that almost all dairy, even butter, causes slowly increasing digestive problems for me, so I’ve switched to ghee and avoid dairy. My wife on the other hand, thrives on large amounts or raw goat dairy. But even the smallest amount of gluten for her causes horrible digestive issues (it doesn’t seem to bother me, but I never have it anyway, since I avoid grains other than rice). It might sound like there’s not a lot left that we can eat, but you’d be surprised. We manage to eat pretty well. 🙂

  9. Whoa. This site is always interesting but this post rates at the top.

    The epiphanic sentence: “Agriculture introduced the concept of ‘labor.'” Of course! Sheesh, sometimes Sisson expresses an idea that is so bloody obvious I feel as if I must hammer my melon with a brick for not thinking of it myself. The sentence melds a lot of ideas for me.

  10. I’ve discovered, as a 46 yo female (peri-menopausal I assume, although with a regular cycle still), that I need more carbs than very low carb when averaged over a month, but that it varies significantly throughout my hormonal cycle – mid cycle is the best time to 24 hour fast, end of cycle the worst time and the most likely to need more carbs. The more I’ve tuned into my body the more I’ve been able to refine my intake. At last estimate I probably vary from 80g some days (sometimes lower) to 200g for a day or two. Obviously working hard in the garden will make a difference too!

    What I’ve found very interesting though is the effect of other macros/foods in the diet in terms of the drive to eat more carbs. Dairy certainly makes me want to eat more carbs, in a very driven kind of way, so I’ve pretty much dropped dairy completely because it seems to blunt my barometer!

    I recall from a TV programme some time back here in UK that looked at the advent of starch enzymes in humans that some ancient tribes’ macro ratios was markedly different between the males and females; men hunting and more protein-fat orientated and females gathering tubers, berries and honey and eating as they went.

    1. this 43 year old perimenopausal woman agrees that carb needs definitely vary with my cycle!! (AND heavy gardening days too! — fortunately fall clean up aligns with tuber harvest!)

    2. Another female here agreeing with you! Men and women have different needs.
      I’ve been experimenting in the last few weeks with reduced carbs to lean out a few vanity pounds. But my sleep and overall energy crashed, so I’ve called it quits and brought back the starchy vege and bananas. I need them for my general wellbeing!
      I’ve just discovered sweet potato with coconut oil, cinnamon and almond butter. Magn-bloody-nificent.

  11. I’ve recently been able to find purple potatoes and purple yams at my local store. I’ve read they have some healthy advantages over the regular varieties. Does anyone know if these are better starch substitues?

    1. From a starch point of view, they will be the same. The benefit comes from the antioxidants from the purple pigmentation. Blue/purple foods have the highest antioxidant value of all the colors. If you want to maximize the value of the starch, making potato salad, then putting it in the fridge for a day will convert the starch to resistant starch which feeds your gut flora. If you cook starches and eat them right away, the starch does not become resistant and ends up converting to sugar within an hour or two. from a body ecology standpoint, it’s just like eating honey or fruit with a slightly slower sugar conversion. If you don’t like cold potato salad, you can always re-cook the starches after they have cooled in the fridge overnight, the resistant starch will not convert back to sugar.

      1. So, that’s the rationale for cooking rice, letting it sit in the fridge overnight, and then re-heating it? Microwave or frying is ok? Because cold rice is gross, IMO.

        1. I’m not sure about microwaving, but stir-frying the rice after you have cooled it will keep the starch resistant. aside from sushi, I don’t think I could eat cold rice either.

      2. Michael, very interesting. I did not know that. I will remember this for the future. I try to use purple, red and yellow potatoes when I cook potatoes. but I will cook them then put them in the fridge and eat them the next day. Good to know.

      3. You can also ferment the potatoes or sweet potatoes -http://divinehealthfromtheinsideout.com/2013/04/fermented-potatoes/

        I recall reading somewhere that some traditional culture used to keep their tubers in small stream in running water for days before consuming them….

      4. Since I just harvested about 50 lbs of purple yams, the cook, refrigerate, reheat idea tells me how to lessen the sugar impact. Thanks. They will be less of a “guilty pleasure” now.

      5. Thanks a million for that welcome piece of information Michael!…I had forgotten about the “chilling” factor in creating resistant starch….a great tip and reminder!…I like my sweet potato or potato salad cold…but it is nice to know that my warm potato salad-prefering husband will not be subject to a sugar overload if they are first chilled, then re-heated.

    2. I just harvested some purple sweet potatoes today! The last time I ate them they did not taste nearly as sweet as orange sweet potatoes, so I will probably treat them as I do carrots and roast them in slices (once they have cured).

      1. I just made the Japanese purple sweet potatoes for the first time last week– roasted with coconut oil, salt & pepper– & my family went wild for them. They were much less sweet & soft than orange “yams,” almost the color (interior) & texture of white potatoes, but subtly sweet, & I was wondering where their starch content/glycemic load lines up. Anybody know?

  12. One important point that I do not see addressed is that satiation mechanism are different for different people, and while some are very responsive to fat and protein with minimal carbs, others will just remain constantly hungry if they do not consume starches. There are people who can do fat fasts and do not experience hunger, but there are also people who do not experience hunger on plain boiled potatoes on super-low calories (1000 cals a day or less for an average height person). Those groups are normally not interchangeable and would starve on the alternative. Successful satiation is the key to the fat loss.

  13. Thanks for the awesome post Mark! I’m currently experimenting with going ketogenic with occasional carb and starch re-feeds. Only a few weeks in, but I’m hopeful!

    Staying in ketosis too long without carbs gave me the same skin rash that a lot of other people are describing called prurigo pigmentosa.

  14. I just started this way of eating three and a half weeks ago and I seem to vary the amount of starchy carb intake (although I have never had more than about 106 grams total carbs in a day). In the beginning (maybe because it coincided with that time of month?) I absolutely had to have a half cup of sweet potatoes in the morning with my eggs or I felt like I was going to lose it, no matter how many other “good” carbs I was eating. Furthermore, if it didn’t happen in the morning, I was more likely to be the kind of person I don’t want to be- angry, sad and continually eating. Once my period was over, I dropped down to insanely low levels of carbs without even trying and did not find myself craving the starchiness. I actually had to track more regularly because I was hitting numbers like 30 as my total carb intake for days at a time, and that just felt too low in my head. Now, I can feel my starch desire going up again, so I wonder if it does have something to do with my monthly cycle. Perhaps there is research concerning this, Mark?

    The nice thing in general is that we have so many reasonable starch options, even if you are feeling particularly starch-starved, that I find myself less and less likely to pig out on the Halloween Candy and what have you. This is something I never thought I would be able to type or say, by the way. What started out feeling uber difficult has just become natural somehow. Weird, but there it is.

    1. Stephanie, I’m completely with you on how natural it now feels to reach for something primally starchy when those cravings hit, as opposed to chips/candy/SAD foods now. It’s kind of an awesome, empowering feeling isn’t it? Sounds like you’re finding success with this, keep it up!

    2. I found out a long time ago that a woman’s basal metabolic rate can vary as much as 400 cals/day from the middle of her cycle just before ovulation (low point) to the end just b/f period (high point). The high level of progesterone increases metabolism, thereby increasing cravings. I truly believe that this is a survival mechanism; the cravings would help insure that a pregnant Grokka got enough to eat for herself and her offspring.

  15. Fascinating post! I’m sharing this one, as it clears up two misconceptions: that the paleo diet frowns upon all carbs/starches, and that our ancestors ate many tubers, so we can eat baked potatoes at every dinner. 🙂

  16. Coming from being one of those carb burning machines and athletic most of my life, I can attest that looking slim/healthy (feeling terrible) is not the same as being really healthy on much lower carbs.

  17. I was low-carb Primal for about a year and a half and lost 65 lbs. However, I was having the worst periods of my life, along with inconsistent periods. My body was not happy. After doing some research and reading Perfect Health Diet, I have recently (last 6 months) added back in white potatoes and white rice a few times a week. The carbs have helped balance my hormones, my periods are less horrible, and they are regular for the first time in ages. Low carb Primal was not optimal for me. I guess it’s about finding what works for you, your body, and your situation.

    1. I’m a huge fan of the PHD. It’s the first “diet” I’ve tried where I feel I can easily control what I eat without having crazy cravings. My starch mostly includes white rice, but also some tubers less frequently.

  18. What about so-called resistant starch, that is, starch that passes undigested through the stomach but arrives in the colon? There’s some emerging evidence that the good bacteria that live in the colon need to feed on this starch in order to thrive. In other words, if everything is processed by the stomach and small intestine, the good ‘microbiome’ is underfed, and the bad guys can multiply. An unhealthy microbiome may be tied to all sorts of auto-immune diseases. Do we need some resistant starch in our diets?

    1. If you have a compromised gut flora, eating resistant starch will also feed the bad bacteria to a certain extent, so it’s a tricky slope. Your gut bacteria usually feed on your gut lining mucus, so you are feeding them no matter if you eat or do not eat starch (the resistant kind). keep in mind you need to cool starch for it to become resistant, if you eat it right after cooking it converts mostly to sugar.

  19. I grew up eating rice and beans (hispanic background) and I took it completely away when I starting eating primal but now I can’t seem to kick the potato habit. I lost weight, lost 40 lbs initially and have consistently kept 30 off, my motivation being that I was diagnosed prediabetic (technically clinically diabetic but I wanted a chance to control it with diet since I was at the cusp) but I crossfit about 3 to 4 times a week now so I can’t seem to find the right ‘carb friendly’ equation. Diabetic insulin control issues is always in the back of my head but I feel like I need the carbs but I just don’t know how much. Anyone figured this out or in my situation?

    1. crossfit requires a decent amount of energy. Unless you have fully transitioned to burning fat for energy aka keteogenic principles, you will need carbs to refuel you glycogen reserves. If not, you are risking the possibility of creating adrenal fatigue which has many harmful effects. Fruit/honey will definitely spike insulin more than properly prepared starches (cooking, cooling, then eating cold or re-cooking). If insulin is of major concern, I would suggest only eating carbs within a 90 minute window after doing crossfit (or any demanding exercise), and making sure to include protein & fat as well to minimize the insulin spike. Regarding how much, everyone is different. I fluctuate carb intake based on how sore I am the day after exercise, as sugar/starch helps me recover better than fat & protein would. I also eat minimal carbs every so often (maybe 1 week out of every month) to reset insulin sensitivity which also help regulate insulin spikes. This usually coincides with my recovery week in which I do not exert myself all that much to replenish my adrenal/kidney function.

  20. I am a 43 yo male and have been living 80 to 90% primal for about 4 yrs. I have held 185 lbs @ 6′ for the past 1.5 yrs down from 255. I have found that just like everything else different circumstances merit different controls. On days that I do a lot of fighting and training I eat more starches, as a matter of fact I look forward to it but only after training,( I generally train fasted)
    I have my cheats but have been able to maintain weight and energy levels without trying really hard. everything in moderation folks, trial and error, if you exert yourself more try more starches, if you are mostly sedentary that day then try less or skip a meal. Over the past year or 2 I have tried not to get bogged down into numbers, stats and overthinking and have found life to be much more enjoyable and easy to maintain.

  21. Lost 35 pounds in 3 months primal w/low carb. started adding in small amounts of carrots & parsnips this fall, gained 2 pounds back, in two weeks. Yes, the days are shorter and I’m getting less outdoor activity time. Added to that is the carbs make me feel sluggish. So out go the carbs, definitely insulin resistant here.

  22. I eat a potato every day. Does not seem to make me unhealthy at all. I started as one of those people slowly slipping toward metabolic syndrome. Low carb seemed to stop the slide. I do not believe potatoes can make me slide back into it.

    I exercised differently back then, too. I used to do a lot of slow cardio. Now I do lifting and sprinting. I think the lifting and sprinting are supported by the extra carbohydrate. I think potatoes support the lifting and sprinting. I also think that lifting and sprinting keep me from slipping back toward metabolic syndrome. Basically, I’m working the carb-using part of my body, making it all work well. It all kind of goes together.

  23. Mark, how does this gel with the Perfect Health Diet? I know you respect what the authors have to say, since you wrote the opening for the book. 🙂

    1. There’s more scientific studies that humans need at least some starch/sugar over the studies to completely avoid all sugar/starch, though like all things, this is debatable. The PHD is as scientific as it gets. If you are not active, it would benefit you to eat starch rather than fruits as your carb intake. I believe the author of the PHD recommends somewhere in the range of 15% of your calories to come from sugar/starch.

      1. Actually the recommendation is about 30% from carbs: http://perfecthealthdiet.com/the-diet/

        Although the % is misleading because it’s more of an absolute thing; your brain uses about 600kcal worth of glucose in a day (let’s ignore ketones here) so it’s best if you can provide that with minimal effort for your liver. If you eat 2000kcal that’s 30%. If you’re active and need 3000kcal that doesn’t necessarily mean eating 1000kcal carbs.

        1. I don’t have the book on hand as I’ve lent it out to someone, but I do not recall carb intake being as high as 30%. Amusing you are taking in roughly 2000 calories, 30% would be 600 calories of carbs, or 150 grams of non fiber carbs. That seems a bit high as I could have sworn it was 15-20% of both carbs & protein, with the remaining 60-70% as fat. In any event, listening to one’s intuition is the best path to take with regards to carb intake amounts.

  24. Counter-counter-argument:

    It’s not because we evolved on a certain amount of starch in our diet that we can’t handle more or that it wouldn’t be beneficial.

    The evolutionary template only gives us a hint towards optimal starch intake.

    That said, there’s plenty of evidence that high starch intake (>40% of calories? who knows…) is not great, perhaps even just because it doesn’t come with plenty of nutrition and in SAD almost certainly comes with plenty of toxins.

    Likewise, many unhealthy individuals found weight loss and energy in switching to a low-carb diet. It’s just unclear how low “low” has to be for this to work, and it doesn’t work for everyone either.

  25. I eat starch (1/2 cup per meal) not for the energy per se, but because I find soluble fiber helps with my IBS. Aren’t good poops a factor too here?

    1. Renee,
      I just started to try and do this as well. It seems to be helping, but I also have to limit my fat intake. Do you find this as well? I’ve looked into food combining and trying to play around with that too.

  26. Wow! talk about perfect timing! at 47 years of age, 8 years of perimenopause, going on 3 years low carb, my thyroid tanked. When I say low carb, I mean most days less than 20 g. Just last week I took the plunge after re reading the primal blueprint to consume more carbs and using fitday to help me keep track. Most days i can get 70g…I have gone as high as 120 and as low as 52. The first thing I noticed was my weight has stayed pretty steady, with a .2 change from one day to the next. The second thing I noticed was the decrease desire for a ‘little something sweet’ after a meal. I am hoping the increases of carbs with the thyroid support that I can get to a more balanced health state.

    Another great article Mark…thanks so much!

  27. I read articles like this and think, well researched and written.

    But, here I sit, having returned from two weeks of business in Europe. Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Almost everywhere, there was:

    – Pasta
    – Potatoes (mainstays with Swiss meals)
    – Pretzels (from the airport to corner stands in Germany and Switzerland)
    – Pizza

    Try and find a fat European…very, very hard to do. And I’m sure just one of those pretzels will blow the needle on that carb meter into the red with two bites. 🙂

    And none of these people are incredibly active, working rice paddies 7 x24, etc. In fact one Italian told me “you Americans don’t get it. You get thin and healthy on pasta. You get fat on meat. Everyone in Europe knows that…you’re just brainwashed in the States.” I chuckled as he asked if I saw a fat person in the restaurant. Nope.

    So, let me ask: do we really believe there’s an absolute in carbs or is it just Europeans understand “moderation” a little (a lot) better than we do?

    1. I can speak to this a little since my entire family is German and at first glance you’d think they eat (and drink) way too many carbs. But if you look closely at their portions, they are far more moderate than here. That, plus people are also much more active and less sedentary as a rule. Everyone walks in Germany. In fact, multiple miles a day between home, work, the store, etc. is totally normal. And an even bigger walk on weekends.

      None of my relatives are fat. A few have the beginnings of a tiny beer belly but these are my uncles, all of whom are in their 70’s and still more active and fit than most men in their 30’s here. All of them eat bread and potatoes with each meal and two or three beers a day but they eat small portions of meat and diary, lots of bitter greens and fermented foods and almost all of it home-cooked and “whole” (very little processed food usually).

      1. Yes, and even Austria is quite similar. Lots of breads there along with their wonderful beers.

        I remember one lunch in Italy where the meal was pasta, foccacia (pizza without cheese or sauce), salad w/ olive oil. Washed down with lots of sparkling water…imagine passing that off in the US? LOL.

        But again, the key is moderation as you note.

    2. “. In fact one Italian told me “you Americans don’t get it. You get thin and healthy on pasta. You get fat on meat. Everyone in Europe knows that…you’re just brainwashed in the States.””

      That’s funny, because my stereotype of Italy, especially is of beautiful young women…and large middle age to elderly women. In the travel videos I’ve seen older men with “pasta” bellies and women who’ve given it all up for moo-moos. (Alas, I’ve never been there, which is why what is floating in my head is a stereotype.)

      That no one was fat in the restaurant means very little, especially if you were sitting in a high end restaurant or in a trendy part of town. Even here, the higher ends of the socioeconomic spectrum seem to be better at portion control.

      And at any rate, since Europe was built almost completely around walking, it makes sense they with some socially encouraged portion control and forced activity, the obesity rate is lower.

      1. Stereotypes aside, I was not in a high end restaurant. We’d run out for a quick lunch near the building where we were working. There was a grocery store across the street from the hotel where I was staying and I’d walk over and grab some Diet Coke, nuts and fruit to snack on. Again, no sign of the alleged overweight women you’re referring to.

        And ignore the travel videos…there may be overweight older women, but, during my week there they were few and far between. My suggestion is before judging experience for yourself.

        1. Trendy part of town then? It doesn’t sound like you had time to get much outside the business district. I’d have a much different impression of the US, too if I confined myself to it’s business zones. Obesity in the US has relationships to social class and geography. If you spent no time in the rural areas, especially, then there’s skew.

          Also, it occurred to me that Europeans tend to smoke as well. Cigarettes are a well known appetite suppressant.

          On the travel videos I dunno..I was watching Rick Steves – – I kinda hope he was leaving a vaguely accurate impression of the places he choose to travel. He

          And I’d love to go, but it’s not in the cards. Enjoy your travels.

        2. Sorry Amy, but, our hotels in two parts of Italy and Germany weren’t in business districts or the prime part of town. And, I got out and ran or walked nearly every day as our meetings never started until 9am so I was never restricted to my hotel or seeing fellow travelers.

          Also, the rural areas are no different. I have taken my wife and we’ve been in the rural Tuscany area when going to Assisi, for example.

          We can’t apply US stereotypes to Europe, trust me.

      2. I live in Italy (Naples) but am American. Almost everyone here is fat. Even if they are “thinner” they are skinny fat.

    3. I think Europeans are more active than Americans.. they also don’t overeat like we do..won’t find lines at Mickey D’s drive thru or see people sitting in their trucks running the air and chowing down on fries

      1. Partially correct. More active, not necessarily. In one city where I was working, my peers were driving in or taking the train from as far away as 45 minutes. As I noted above, lets not assume. 😉

        1. Also, even with moderate exercise, you’d think Europeans (and Italians) would be plagued with weight issues based on the Curse of the Carb … especially white carbs, as Taubes has labeled them the bane of society in his books.

          Also, I’d put your average German on pretzels or Italian on pasta (and their great local wines) up against Taubes for leanness and having a better time with life in general.

        2. How many of those same peers smoked? That would help keep the weight off as well.

    4. I tend to believe that “moderation” is way more useful than many people realize.
      I`ve been living in Japan for three years (urban area). One rarely comes across overweight people around here, let alone someone who is obese, and yet, the Japanese don`t commonly employ heuristics people in the US seem to associate with optimal nutrient partitioning/hormonal milieu effects: They routinely demonstrate a rather pronounced affection for carbs (even the dreaded wheat) – like ramen, udon, melonpan, okonomiyaki -, and there is an insane array of sweet and salty “processed junk foods” and soft drinks available – vending machines are practically everywhere (Robert “The Japanese eat hardly any fructose!” Lustig should drop by sometime.). Plus, people are pretty fond of their booze. So, how do they, by and large, stay slim?
      Simply by adjusting their portion sizes in accordance with how their clothes fit. Since standing out from the crowd is abhorred, and being fat would mean standing out, whenever someone feels that their pants are getting tight, they just cut back on the after-work drinks at their izakaya of choice, or visit their favourite ramen place a little less often for a while – no digital scales or advanced knowledge of thermodynamics required. Plus, there`s lots of “everyday activity”, since cars aren`t that practical in Japanese cities, which is why most people don`t drive all that much. In fact, my Japanese friends are routinely baffled at the concept of completely overhauling one`s diet in order to lose weight/improve health, when just eating a little less (and moving a little more) is so simple and effective in their experience ( Gary Taubes and his posse would probably argue that the Japanese eat fewer carbs than Americans as far as absolute amounts are concerned and thus exist in a state of “relative carb restriction”; but, alas, they are most definitely not compliant with the “low-carb approved” range of intake, which (according to “low-carb dogma”) should trigger a vicious circle of hyperinsulinemia-driven overeating/fat accumulation resulting in widespread obesity; this clearly isn`t happening, as I can attest to.) .
      In contrast, Americans appear to either avoid “regular everyday movement” like the plague and wolf down ridiculous amounts of food – I visited the Southern US a while ago; people drove literally everywhere, and the serving sizes at restaurants/fast food places seemed almost comically humongous to me – or be consumed with creating and executing “the optimal diet and exercise plan” that will deliver “perfect health” without fail.
      As far as the latter is concerned, my personal foray into “optimizing my gene expression” according to “primal” parameters (undertaken in order to get my constantly nagging sister, who happens to be a devout acolyte, off my back) left me rather underwhelmed: Three months of eating (to satiety) as per Mark`s “blueprint” resulted in no tangible benefits; what I got out of it instead was ten pounds of (mostly visceral) fat gain (as determined by DXA scans) and the corresponding apo-b, hs-crp, liver marker (got/gpt/y-gt) and fasting blood glucose elevations, which even the most unconventional wisdom out there regards as decidedly undesirable (apparently I personally unconsciously tend to overeat fatty foods).
      All in all, I am pretty sure of two things:
      1. We don`t yet know nearly as much about how factors beyond CICO influence health and body composition as the various “gurus” pretend we do.
      2. The practical relevance of the “myriad confounding factors” which allegedly render calorie counting/portion control a quest doomed to failure is vastly overstated.

  28. I actually have an intolerance to starchy carbs, so you’ll see no argument from me! I avoid white potatoes as much as possible. I do occasionally indulge when the opportunity presents itself (maaaybe once a month), but that has consequences, like seriously painful cramping, so I’m careful not to do it too often.

    I seem to be relatively okay with sweet potato, but I’m trying to slim down, so again, that’s a sometimes food.

  29. I had really high blood sugar so gave up all grains and sugars. Now my BS is excellent and I’m healthier than ever. So no starchy root vegetables for me. It’s not worth the BS spikes.

  30. What tubers are we talking about here in regards to so much calcium? I have a chronic calcium deficiency and would love to know!!!! Thanks 🙂

    1. I wouldn’t think tubers would be a good source of calcium, because most calcium in tubers are bound to oxalate. For calcium try eating fish with bones, bone broth or egg shells.

      1. Wish I could… but calcium deficiency means I have to very carefully limit my phosphorus as well… bones and shells are far too high in phosphorus and render the calcium essentially useless. That was why the thought of a high calcium tuber sounded attractive… as far as I know they are generally low in phosphorus so would theoretically have a positive Ca-Ph difference. Thanks though 🙂

        1. There are a number of vegetables (green) that are quite high in calcium and are rated a far better source and better absorbed.

          But, can I ask: if you’re calcium deficient:

          – Are you drinking soda? Phosphoric acid causes the body to pull calcium from the bones to offset the acid.

          – How much meat or how many eggs are you consuming a day?

          Again, to maintain Ph balance, the body can and will pull (leach) calcium from your bones if you’re consuming too much “protein” (think amino ACID). I’d check your food logs and look at your intake of good greens vs. acidic foods.

          And, with inflammation so comes the risk of arterial calcification.

        2. Hi Ed,

          Thanks for your thoughts. I have a rare disease called hypoPARAthyroidism and have for almost 10 years… I am very aware of how calcium, along with its electrolyte counterparts, work in the body and what foods I need to avoid. My body actually does not and in fact *cannot* leach calcium from my bones. I’ve become quite educated on the topic but had not heard of tubers with the claimed 5mg/1g calcium ratio so I was just interested in finding out which tubers Mark Sisson was referring to.

  31. Never mentioned are HORMONES. For example, getting adult males on Testosterone replacement when deficient can have insane cholesterol and blood sugar response effects. They can go from diabetic blood work to normal with no dietary changes at all in less than a year. Genetics can mean enzymes and your weight storage issues, or it can mean your hormones suck and you can’t eat as much sugar because you literally don’t have the components available to process them without damaging your insides. Weight gain or not.

  32. What Mark forgets to tell you is that you also have to lower fat if you are not active. Of course someone who isn’t active should eat lower calories and therefore carbs. The blame shouldn’t all be placed on the crabs. De Novo lipogenesis is an inefficient process and it is much easier to store excess fat than excess carb.

    1. Yes, but if you eat a high fat dietary and are sedentary, you’ll be full much faster and at the correct calorie level. It’s the carbs (and sugary ones at that), that tend to stimulate appetites. In other words, you own body has much more reliable gauge on high fat than high carb when it comes to calorie counts.

    2. Sorry, Rob, but what research does actually back up your claim dietary fat is actually fat storing on its own, not to mention even more so compared to dietary carbs. On the contrary it is actualy carbs and carb related fat storing hormone INSULIN which cause fat storage in your body not dietary fat. That was proven in praxis too many times. That is way low carb diets are such hit with weight loss programmes. If you’re less active it is even more important to drop dietary carbs and not fat when achieving certain calorie goal. Protein should also not be increased on account of lower carbs for the sake of negative impact of too much protein (gluconeogenesis + acidic waste).

      1. Protein also jacks up insulin production, but, this goes largely ignored. Some may recall when Dr. Gerald Reavens, MD–who discovered metabolic syndrome, was cited by Gary Taubes in his writings.

        Not only did Reavens note Taubes had completely misrepresented him, he also showed protein does facilitate insulin release.

        Also, low carb doctors including endocrinologist Dr. Ron Rosedale and cardiologist Dr. Steven Gundry (one of the foremost MDs in vascular surgery) are adamantly against high protein intake due to the detrimental affects on longevity and health.

  33. Another excellent summary Mark. We really can’t totally recreate a true primal lifestyle and probably wouldn’t want to if we could. Your approach of adjusting the amount of carbohydrate in you diet according to activity level strikes me as very reasonable and works for me. I find I do well varying carb intake day to day. And I think we can all agree that we’re talking about unrefined carbohydrates here, not sugars and highly refined grains.

  34. But there wasn’t a frost warning broadcast that sent cavemen out to harvest ALL the sweet potatoes growing in their gardens and tempted them to bake them up with maple syrup to feed their growing children and satisfy their Autumnal carb-cravings!

    Oops. 🙂 At least they’re long-lasting and can be used piecemeal instead of fast-wilting and needing to be used ASAP. *grin*

  35. I wish I could find the source, but I recently read that starch was the body’s preferred source of carbs, better than fruit. One thing I noted of interest was that a study showed no indications of activity in the satiety part of the brain after eating fruit, but it lit up after eating starch. Again, I can’t remember the source, which weakens my point right there, but I guess what I’m asking is this: what are your thoughts on the argument that starchy vegetables provide a better source of carbohydrates than fruit because of the type involved?

    From my own experience, I would much rather get my carbs from sweet potatoes or rice. Fruit makes me crave more fruit.

  36. Mark, you’re a badass.

    Where’s the ‘Like’ button on this thing?

  37. What about low GI potatoes? I had never heard of them until I went to our local garden store this past summer. They had seed potatoes that were labelled low GI. I didn’t buy any, but wondered if they would be more similar to the tubers Grok ate.

    1. The Glycemic Index has been proven an unreliable tool by most researchers.

  38. I read a lot of fitness blogs that promote paleo, and I cannot for the life of me see how people are hitting 100 plus carbs per day only eating vegetables and some fruit. Even adding some coconut flour and small amounts of almonds puts me around 70 on most days. I think you need tubers just to get into the carb level that your body needs especially if you have some sort of movement protocol that your following.

  39. I dropped to very low carbs, only from leafy veg and the odd nut. My already slim frame became a bit boney. I also started having painful periods and PMS. These stopped once I started eating rice, kumera and fruit again. I also had to stop my IF, which I enjoyed. I will try IF again, but maybe with more carbs before and after.

  40. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis which is a form of Arthritis of the spine. I suffered for 12 long years with it not knowing why sometimes it was more intense than at others times. I have been on a daily dose of anti inflammatories for 12 years but even they sometimes cannot stop the inflammation and restricted movement that results. At times I could not sleep due to the pain, could not walk, could not even sit comfortably. Everything was hard work. Until I discovered a website which promoted eliminating STARCH from my diet. No Rheumatologist will prescribe this, instead they want me to take very expensive biologic drug injections. I refused the injections, and eliminated starch from my diet. The improvements came very quickly. Even the starch in a seemingly benign vegetable like Zucchini can set off a bout of inflammation. Grains & Potatoes…..the worst.

    Starch to me is poison.

    The theory is that starch does not digest in the body very well, a certain common type of bacteria grow on the undigested starch (Klebsiella), which multiplies and the body produces an auto immune response to keep the bacteria under control. Unfortunately I have a gene (HLA-B27) that looks similar to the Klebsiella bacteria, so my immune attacks my good cells in a case of mistaken identify. That is the scientifically unproven theory, but there is no doubt removal of starch from the diet, therefore removing the food source of the bacteria, reduces the inflammation for me. The difference is massive. It makes me wonder how many other people suffer differing problems due to starch in the diet.

    More can be read about it here.

    http://www.kickas.org/londondiet.shtml

  41. I think this is great advice to get someone on a healthy track. Thank you for not only pointing out the benefits of a diet such as this but also pinpoint the kind of people that might benefit from a diet like this.

    1. Well, cassava is derived from a wild progenitor native to South America, where it was domesticated around 10k BC. It was brought to Africa in the 16th century, where it quickly replaced traditional starch crops. That would indicate that the wild starches Africans were using weren’t as calorically dense as the newcomer, because why else would they switch? It also indicates that the primary site of human evolution – Africa – may never have had anything as starchy as the cassava (why not just keep using what they’d been using?). Heck, cassava is huge everywhere, even Asia. It’s the most popular tuber worldwide. It might not be the best model for ancestral tuber consumption.

  42. I wish this was written before I started researching paleo/low carb. Most fear fat, I fear carbs now and it’s damaged my hormones. Only being 22, after months of reading blogs and personal stories… Carbs were the probably. Should have ate a lot more! I am now thankfully!
    Great post! Carbs are definitely important!!

  43. Look at the South Pacific Islanders. From Palau to Hawaii, you find some big people (and I don’t mean big boned), even in historical accounts. Their diets are heavy heavy on tubers, taro in particular; this isn’t caused by McDonalds.

  44. For the last year I have almost fully ignored the amount of carbs I was eating as long as they were coming from starchy tubers or squashes. I would also limit fruit to about 1 piece/day. I would estimate about 150-200g per day. I had been on lower carb paleo/primal for about a year before that.

    What I found after including more starch was actually an improvement in my body composition. Not a huge improvement, but then again I didn’t have all that much to improve there anyway. I didn’t notice any changes in digestive health, performance, mood, or seasonal allergy symptoms. So, I figured I would continue with this since I really like sweet potatoes and plantains; plus, the perfect health diet and Chris Kresser aren’t really on board with really low carb if you are metabolically healthy (ie. no obesity or diabetes).

    However, I have just started to read Grain Brain, and I am starting to re-think the amount of carbs I am eating. I feel like as I progress through the book I will start to decrease my carb intake below 100g per day and see what happens.

    1. @Andy, you realize that 200g of carbs is an entire kilogram of sweet potatoes (they are 20g carbs per 100g uncooked). That would mean 3,600 calories of only sweet potatoes. I doubt seriously that you are eating that much. So maybe you are talking 200g of sweet potatoes and not 200g of carbs?

  45. As an aside to the actual information in the article, can I just say I love the fact that you have used the diet of the Hadza people as a source of information? I taught in Tanzania for 4 years and had the opportunity to spend time with my students visiting with the Hadza, watching the men hunt and the women collect honey. Such a fascinating culture that is quickly being lost! I’m so appreciative of anyone who is aware of them.

  46. Touching on the point about the Kitavans, our ancestors would have developed digestive tracts and nutritional requirements to suit the environment around them. This is why people who live in the far north (Innuits etc) ate so much game (because plants didn’t grow in the extended winter and large animals were available). Those who lived in more tropical regions had an abundance of plant foods (fruits and tubers) and smaller game (monkeys, tapirs, fish), and so their requirements for health changed accordingly.

    The same goes for modern humans – there is no fixed amount of macro-nutrients that can be applied across the board, it is up to the individual to experiment and find their perfect ratios of protein, fat and carbohydrate.

    Try http://www.cagefreehuman.com.au/eat/eat-for-you/ for more on metabolic typing.

  47. I eat a lot of veggies and some fruit and no bread, pasta, pastries, etc and I’m on a 16/8 IF schedule. I am 5’8″ tall and weigh about 142 pounds. I do eat some brown rice and quinoa here and there. My diet is pretty clean, controlling stress and getting enough sleep is my big problem / challenge. Best wishes to everyone on achieving your health goals.

  48. I was fascinated when reading to my children about Lewis and Clark to see that Sacagawea told L&C that she would rather camp in a certain spot where she knew she wouldn’t have to resort to eating tubers.

  49. Great post, I was tempted by tubers but now I’m gonna leave them for the time being. Love the fact you clear up the misconception of paleo and low carbs – thanks 🙂

  50. Great article. Mark I do wish you would have more posts about differences in dietary needs between men and women on paleo/primal diets. I saw a lot of comments on here about women in their 40s who found that adding back in some starchy vegetables after being on a low carb diet for awhile was very helpful. I am of a similar age (though can’t say I am in “perimenopause” and don’t know how I would know such a thing), and also feel this may be true for me (the need for periods of eating more starchy veggies), though I have not yet quite found the amount that works well for me. I also read something Paul Jaminet wrote about how very low carb diets can wreak havoc on your mucous membranes. I am not sure if this is true or not but recently I started having a lot of dryness of the mouth (as well as in other areas of my body) and wondered if I had gone too low carb. Drinking loads of water and upping my intake of starchy veggies seems perhaps to have helped. But can anybody out there clear up the issue of carb intake and compromising your mucous membranes? Is this a concern?? Would love more details on this. Mark maybe a post about this would be helpful.

    1. This is JME, but I was very low carb for well over a year and never had any mucous membrane drying. OTOH, just months after I increased my natural carb intake dramatically, I experienced drying in every mucous membrane in my body, and I cannot seem to reverse the effects, months later.

  51. How are we delineating between “starch” and carbohydrates as a whole? For example, there are plenty of carbs in other sources such as fruit, honey, and greens like broccoli, but would those fall in this starch category? As a hard charging athlete, I have quite a good amount of carbohydrates in my diet (as I count carbs from all sources), but it’s not all coming from tubers.

    1. There is no starch is Brocolli or if there is, very small amounts. I eat a lot of Brocolli as it is one of the few starchless vegetables I can eat. You can use Iodine to test for starch. I use a weaker Iodine tincture of some sort. Put a drop on your food (dont’ eat it, its poison) and if it goes dark/black it contains starch. Put a drop on white bread, it goes black instantly. Vegetables and fruits can vary in starch content throughout the year as well. Avocados for example become starchy when cool stored. Apples are starchy when they are fresh and crisp I notice.

  52. I had a discussion with a good friend of mine a couple of months ago along the lines of the article above. He argued that he’d lost weight eating a standard diet having, that evening prior to my arrival, vomited twice, and afterward during my visit, worked his way through the best part of a box of tissues for a continually runny nose. I apologized to him that I hadn’t explained my reasons for the primal diet clearly to him. Those reasons were; that I ate this way because of the health benefits, that weight loss was a side benefit (Although a damn good one) and it provided optimul support for my immune system. I went on to explain that I wasn’t the one currently sat on the sofa looking like death warmed up. He proceeded to say “you’ll catch this, wait and see”. I said to him “let’s carry out an experiment, hand me the cup you’ve just drunk from” he did and I drank from the same cup. I said “cough over me” he said “you’re mad!”, I said “that may be so, just cough over me and make it a real hacker”! He did then he sneezed, unintentionally I hasten to add, so I breathed in deepy.

    The bet we made was for a £5.00 and a week later I went to collect at which point he said “no no it took a couple of weeks for it to gestate as I caught this bug from my mother (a heavy smoker with emphysema). I replied that I was happy to go for as long as he wished and a further two weeks later… I pocketed five quid.

    Now it could be said that it was pure chance I didn’t catch whatever it was he was suffering from but all of us in the primal/paleo community know why I didn’t and don’t/rarely get ill. Finishing the discussion with him on that evening he pointed out that from my “sample of one” I was hardly proof that the diet worked. I ended it with the point that the paleo community has many thousands if not hundreds of thousands of “samples” (not to mention indiginous communties eating this way worlwide) to show it works and that I had tried it from his side of the fence but he had not from mine. Therefore how was he qualified to put forward a logical argument as to whether it would benefit him or not.

    Mark keep up the good work this website and all that it stands for is a shining light in a world full of crap. To the primal/paleo community, love to you all and my hope goes out to those whom have yet to discover what it is to be truly healthy.

    1. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a “nutrarian”, notes his diet is so rich in nutrients critical to heath that few of his patients and adherents to his eating plan catch colds.

      Also, Dr. Fuhrman has objective evidence of the reversal of heart disease*, reducing cancer, eliminating Type 2 diabetes and inflammatory disease.

      His diet?

      – Vegetables
      – Nuts
      – Legumes
      – Small amounts of fruit
      – Very small amounts of animal protein

      *There’s a also objective research “starch” based diets will do the same.

  53. Mark, I really wish you would’ve addressed women’s cycles and necessary starch for menstruation. So many women lose their cycles only eating berries and salads. I know I did. Add back in a sweet potato, some bananas, and yes even some white potatoes and white rice. BAM! Flow city. 😉

    1. Yes! This is so true! I am back on the “starch road” because I lost my cycle by only eating non-starchy vegetables and the occasional piece of fruit (carb-wise). I was eating high fat (50-60% of my macros), which I thought was enough to keep “flow city” going… I am hoping including more starchy carbs (so far just squash and sweet potatoes) will help. Please, Mark, do a post on this!

  54. Brilliant post, Mark. Thank you for lucidly quashing some of these myths. Evolutionary anthropology and the archaeological record palpably demonstrate the stark paucity of tubers present in the environment; stable nitrogen isotope data demonstrates their near-absence from our diet for almost all of our evolutionary history. I’ve been trying to argue this point for quite some time 🙂

  55. I would like to see a detailed breakdown of the metabolism of fat vs metabolism of carbs. I understand that carbs result in release of insulin, but doesn’t dietary fat become stored as adipose tissue and therefore induce a higher insulin release that way?

  56. Great article Mark. Most paleo bloggers are more concerned with defending their dogma than just seeing things as they are, so thanks for being such a voice of reason.

  57. All I know is that a 1.5 years ago I tried an experiment.
    I had cut down carbs to almost 0 for 6 straight months. After that I started carbs back up and it resulted in a massive weight gain that to this day I still can’t get rid of….primal diet or not.

    Don’t cut carbs if your body is used to burning it your entire life and you have no weight issues from it…big mistake I regret.

  58. I’ve noticed when I increase my starch intake, i begin to either put on the pounds, or i find it harder to loose weight. The weight gain is very slow, but noticeable. I begin to look a little ‘thicker’. I love potatoes! But i know i need to just ‘let them go’ 🙂

  59. Quick question: you mentioned if you are physically working out more than the average person, more starchy carb would be better: however, what would reccomend eating more of if you were doing an increased level of intense studying? Just an increase in calories in general or adding more starchy carbs if the brain requires 20g to survive or perform.

  60. I’ve cut carbs for 10 days only, and the results was amazing!!!

  61. Mark, what do you think of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and other manifestations of that theory such as GAPS? I have celiac and do find that some starchy meals leave me w/ terrible indigestion. The GAPS philosophy states that this is because my duodenum, where starch is digested, has been compromised by celiac. I’m currently very much fat-adapted but have found that a starchy meal helps me sleep well. It’s hard for me to eat more than a couple pieces of fruit in a day, and I often struggle to get in 100 grams of carbs. I also read the article you linked about how women might need a bit more starch. Can you offer specific suggestions for those of us w/ celiac or other bowel disorders?